Make your guitar's humbuckers switchable to single coils

Picture of Make your guitar's humbuckers switchable to single coils
If you have a guitar with dual-coil pickups, or humbuckers, you can easily modify the wiring to allow you to use just one of the coils on each pickup instead of both coils.  This will give you the tone and dynamics of a single coil (and the hum too) without buying new pickups AND you can go back to humbucker configuration with the flick of a switch!  

There are a ton of possibilities here to configure different tones on your guitar if you care to experiment.  

In this instructable, I'll show how I installed a switch to make both of the humbuckers on my guitar operate as single coils at the same time, but I'll also describe some other options in detail.  For example, It is possible to create a single pickup that operates as both a single coil AND humbucker with a control to blend how much of each type of sound is routed through the guitar's controls to the amp.  Using a control scheme like this on all of the available pickups would create many tonal variations that can be easily tweaked during a performance.  Another possibility, would be to use the pickup as "mostly" single coil to get that single coil tone that is often desired, but use the blend control to dial out some of the characteristic hum at higher gain levels.  This would take advantage of the humbuckers hum cancelling properties as much or as little as required for the current volume/gain settings.

In it's simplest form this mod is very easy.  If all you want is to turn your humbuckers into single coils you can pull that off in about 20 minutes with nothing more than a small piece of wire!  Adding a switch will be more challenging mostly because you need to find a place to put it.  You can get a push/pull type potentiometer/switch to replace your volume POT, or you may have to cut a hole in the pick guard to mount a toggle switch.  If you intend to blend the two coils you will need a push/pull pot installed in addition to whatever knobs you already have, so make sure you have the necessary space for whatever new components you'll be adding before you blow the money on parts... In my case, there wasn't much room and I didn't have a suitable push/pull POT in my collection, so I added a discrete sliding toggle switch between my existing volume/tone knobs.  I had to cut a hole to fit the switch, but I wasn't modding a vintage '56 les paul goldtop or anything! I got this guitar at my local pawn shop for $60! So, take that into consideration when choosing to perform ANY modification.  The push/pull volume POT is the way to go to keep this mod reversible if you have an expensive or vintage instrument and still want to make changes to it.

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MWG1487 months ago

Some strats have 2 humbuckers and a single coil in the middle. Is this necessary? What kind of sound would that produce? Could that set up we wired to switch to a 3 coil / no humbucker configuration upon the flick of a switch?



mofoya (author)  MWG1487 months ago

Strats come in a several configurations to give players a variety to choose from. When you ask "is this necessary?" the answer is no, but it gives strat lovers options other that being locked into the "normal" 3x single coil configuration of the original strat. I've seen S-S-S, S-H-S, H-S-H, H-S-S... In all of these configurations, there is a 5 position switch that allows to choose to use any 2 adjacent pickups or any 1 alone. The chosen pickups work exactly like any other 2 pickup system except that they are placed under the strings differently (the distance from the bridge has a HUGE effect on tone BTW) which is the reason for having multiple pickups in the first place!

You could wire the 2 humbuckers to act as single coils together or independently exactly as I have done in this -ible. Just leave the single coil in the middle alone. I would be tempted to only do the neck pickup. Turning this one to single coil would help to achieve that bluesy tone that is sought after and leaving the bridge a humbucker will keep the volume boost (and hum reduction) you need near the bridge. At the bridge the string can't move as much, so it is inherently lower volume unless you adjust that pickup closer to the strings... hope that helps.

MWG148 mofoya7 months ago

Thank you! If I chickened out, what would it cost if someone else did the wiring you suggest ?

thanks again. Nice article!

tkjtkj8 months ago

Nice job, clearly done , and appreciated! BTW, I'm new to electron-driven guitars but have read/viewed Scott Grove's important youtube vid on the matter of always keeping all pickup volume and tone knobs at max ..

and so I ask of the advisability of taking advantage of fact that the innards of the guitar are now fully accessible for your mod, so why not at same time change all 'Vol' and 'Tone' knobs to be perm mod'd to be always at 'Max' .. leaving tone controls to be managed totally by one's amp ..

Would seem to be a no-brainer on a cheap guitar, but totally stupid on any expensive one ... as i understand that *any* mod to a valuable guitar ruins it's resale value .. even a mod that improves the device..

mofoya (author)  tkjtkj8 months ago
I wouldn't do that. The reason being that I use the volume knob sometimes to tune the dynamic range of the guitar on the fly when using a tube amp on the verge of overdrive. Essentially, when the tubes are just breaking up, you can get a more overdriven sound by turning the volume knob up a little and then get a cleaner sound by turning down. You can also just play harder or softer, but the volume knob gives you further dynamic control. If you want it maxed out, it's easy to just turn it all the way. Then still have the control there if you ever want it. Even if it's just to keep the guitar quiet when you're not playing.
tkjtkj mofoya8 months ago
Thanks ... i just learned something ... Your knowledge of all this is very comprehensive .. Appreciated!
iceng2 years ago
Fascinating discussion clear, thorough, good pics and informative.

I wonder if the hum on single coil is induced 60 cycle into the strings.

Would running on battery power in a 60 mile radius ( away from power lines )
desert give a clean sound on a single coil, you think ?

mofoya (author)  iceng2 years ago
Thanks for the nice comment!

The single coil arrangement is susceptible to two types of noise. One (usually called hum) is interference from the 60Hz mains power. The other (usually called buzz) is from things like radio transmissions and sounds like static. There is no electrical connection to the strings, so all of the induced noise is from the pickups. There have been some shielded single coil designs that used special magnet materials to reduce hum.

Running on battery power in the desert would eliminate the hum... but, I don't think you can run far enough away to escape the buzz.
iceng mofoya2 years ago
Thanks for the knowledgeable opinion :)